A tragedy, that is how I defined the facts when I received the news at the monastery. The house where I lived was undergoing a major renovation in all its rooms. As there would be a lot of dust and rubble, I left all the furniture and personal belongings in a deposit while the work was not finished. Then I travelled to the monastery for another period of study until I could live in the house again. However, a strong storm, typical of the end of summer in Rio de Janeiro, caused an enormous flood in various districts of the city, including where the warehouse was located, and swept away everything that was stored. Furniture made with rosewood, which had been with my family for decades; paintings and sculptures by renowned artists; thousands of CDs, LPs and books, some rare and first-edition; old photos and documents; medals, trophies and diplomas, won during my professional career; all my clothes, except the ones I had brought in a suitcase during the trip to the monastery; the household utensils necessary for a home. Goods acquired over many years were destroyed by the water in just a few hours of rain. As I had spent all my savings on renovating the house, at that moment I lacked the financial means to repair the damage. Not to mention the irreplaceable objects of emotional value, whose loss I felt the most.
I was aware that the losses, whether affective or financial, were all of a material nature. Yes, even the affective losses, deep down, were limited to the material aspect only. Affection, as a feeling, when true, is never lost with the destruction of the object wich only serves the purpose of remembering the days of love we lived. As it is love, I have the power to carry the memories of the best chapters of my story in a place where no one will steal it or destroy it: the heart.
I would no longer have the photo album of my daughters as children, but I would have the sweet memory of unforgettable moments, of a time when they were no more than three feet tall and jumped around, as if they had springs in their feet. Nostalgia enchants me for the love that involves it.
It would no longer be possible to put on the old record player the LP by Cartola, bought in the nostalgic Modern Sound, legendary record shop in Copacabana, or to have in my hands the first edition of Canto General, by Pablo Neruda, acquired in an antiquarian in Madrid. But I could have access to all the songs and poetry of these masters, just to name a couple, among the many I admired, both of music and literature, through the various online applications. I would listen on my mobile phone; I would read on a tablet. However, I confess that it hurts me to think about the bookcase in the house, which I had ordered to accommodate these books and records, being filled with objects of mere decoration. It would be strange to enter my house and not find the sofa and the armchairs that had accompanied me since childhood. They were hand-carved by my grandfather, a skilful Portuguese craftsman, which were already there when my father was just a boy. The objects that adorned the altar I had in one of the bedrooms, collected during the years of my spiritual pilgrimage to various corners of the planet, also no longer existed.
It is time for life to renew itself. Absolutely everything in existence has an expiry date, I said to myself.
I was also aware that everything that happens to us is for the good; although we often have difficulty, at the moment of tragedy, in understanding this concept and perceiving its applicability. For this, it is indispensable not to look through the lenses which show the disaster, but through those which offer the exact lesson. Why did this happen to me? This is not the best question. Looking at life from the viewpoint of victimization will never be useful to me. What does this want to teach me? This is the question to be asked, for it shows me the master hidden in the chaos and initiates me on yet another journey of transformation and overcoming. I will find the answer according to the question I ask. With it, the possibility of a new tool for essential evolution.
Moreover, if the learning came in a sudden and overwhelming, even violent way, it was necessary to admit that the same lesson had already been offered to me in gentler ways; however, out of inattention, convenience or fear, I had not noticed or had denied myself the changes indispensable to the advances inherent to life. It was not the time to regret, but to learn and grow.
Although I knew all this, it was still not easy. Why is it so difficult? I asked myself. That was a huge loss, I would reply in an attempt to explain my pain. Without any exaggeration, I had the distinct feeling that something in me had died. Literally. I confessed this to the Elder, as we called the oldest monk of the Order, when I found him. Without saying a word, he gave me a tight hug and offered a sincere look of solidarity. Then he said, “Your sense of death is authentic and real. You have died, Yoskhaz”. Faced with my astonishment, he said: “We die several times during the same existence. Physical death is not the only one we face; only the last.”
Needless to add that the monk did not speak of the infinitude of spiritual life. Just as he did not refer to the various existences of the many incarnational cycles, with many births and deaths, indispensable to the evolutionary process. The Elder, at that moment, was talking about the various deaths we go through in the same existential cycle, which begins when we leave our mother’s womb and ends when the physical body dies. After being born, we often die before the death certificate signed by a doctor and the burial performed by an undertaker. According to him, I had just died. This had stunned me.
The Elder claimed that the proper place to continue that conversation was the canteen. “All reasoning becomes more fluent when accompanied by a mug of coffee and a piece of oatcake,” he joked. He linked his arm with mine and we walked to the monastery refectory. Duly seated, with two steaming cups on the table, he surprised me again: “We die every day when, at night, we sleep. We are reborn the next morning. If you are attentive, you will realize that yesterday no longer belongs to you. It is already in the realms of death.”
“However, the end of one cycle will always be the beginning of another. Irremediably so. The day is only a very small cycle that makes up other larger ones. These are part of others that are even longer. All are valuable and significant. The cycles, without exception, are justified by the learning of their content. They repeat themselves by necessity; they are extinguished for the same reason”.
“A day, being a trivial and quite common cycle, does not receive the due value from our part. This will hinder the closing of larger cycles. The opposite also applies and we can optimize the cycles. Some cycles, especially those linked to existence, are driven by the time factor and, due to its inexorability, brings us suffering when we are not yet ready for its end”.
“We die when we leave childhood, when we finish our studies to begin working, when we leave our parents’ home, in divorces, in the unexpected death of a loved one, in separations in general, when we quit a job, at each illness that leaves a sequel or even when we have a desire thwarted. Believe me, for a still primitive ego, all frustrations and sorrows are received, even unconsciously, as a kind of death”.
He stopped for a moment and asked me if I knew what a requiem was. I answered that it was the name given to the prayer for the dead. He nodded and said, “Regrets and complaints are like the reverse of a requiem for ourselves”.
“Death is every closing of a cycle, whether of a lesson or of an existence. It means that life needs to renew itself under different conditions. When we are still unprepared, it causes us fear. When we are terrified of the curtains closing, we waste the beauty of all the light behind them. Then we waste the magic of life.”
I questioned the Elder if all disasters are, actually, a sudden act of regeneration of life. The monk nodded and said, “When we are willing to face the problem with love and wisdom, yes. Otherwise, it will only be a tragedy. A mature soul grows in the face of chaos, for it perceives the destruction of obsolete forms and stagnant energies. It seizes the opportunity to install, through itself, a different way of being and living. It is grateful for the chance to illuminate the dark corners it has begun to see. Revolutionary ideas and attitudes will always, by sheer necessity, be lighter and more subtle.”
I didn’t say a word. I emptied my coffee mug and thought about that conversation. There was something about it that made embarrassed. Little of what the monk had said was new to me. I knew almost everything he had said. Why did I continue to suffer? Was knowledge of any use in alleviating pain or was it just academic rhetoric with no applicability to real life? I confessed my doubts to the Elder.
He frowned and said: “We are less than we know. Learning is only useful when it moves away from discourse and becomes inherent to our perspective and the choices. Otherwise, knowledge will not climb the steps of wisdom.”
Then he arched his lips in a slight smile and concluded: “Be serene about your death so that you can make good use of it. Or you will die the same death again and again”.
Then he excused himself. He had a lecture to give at the monastery. I watched him walk away with his slow but steady steps.
The monk’s last words echoed in my mind for days. They were ideas that inhabited my thoughts, but were not yet part of who I was. It was time to either metabolize them permanently in me or forget them. Either decision would lead me to the deserved consequences.
I was at the monastery for another period of studies. There were classes, debates and conferences, but I couldn’t concentrate. There was a fork in the road ahead of me and nothing would be of use to me before an angular choice from an existential point of view. To apply to life all the knowledge acquired, far beyond apparent intelligence and social politeness, was an act of extreme maturity. A responsibility taken by myself of no longer living with intellectual, emotional and spiritual fraud. Running away from the truth is what makes it painful when it reaches us.
I asked to be excused from the Order’s activities during that period. However, I asked permission to remain in the monastery for reflection, prayer and meditation. This was done. As the days went by, I felt stronger as the consequences of the rain lost their importance. Little by little, everything became clear and simple. Until one morning I woke up smiling with a mischievous ray of sunlight that entered through a crack in the bedroom curtain to kiss my face.
When the Elder entered the canteen, I was sitting at a table with other monks, as we call the members of the Order, in lively conversation. He smiled satisfied and gestured that he wanted to talk to me. I mentioned to get up, but he gestured again to explain that there was no hurry. Later, I found him in his office. The Elder said: “Your joy reveals the changes that have taken place in your soul”. I told him that I had taken a deep dive into myself to find, not only what I had forgotten, but also what I knew and had never belonged to me for lack of use. I went, too, in search of some things I did not know. He nodded in approval.
I told him I was leaving; this cycle of study at the monastery was over. It was time to put into practice important decisions that I had matured in the last few days. Without the monk needing to ask, I said what they were. The most important one was to sell the house. I explained that I had realized that I no longer needed such a spacious house, with so many rooms, just for me to live in. My daughters were studying abroad and did not intend to return when they finished their courses. They had their own lives and were happy. This is what mattered. With the money from the sale, I would buy a small flat. That was enough for me. I would find more time to visit them; good for someone who loved to travel like me, I joked. I would save some money for any eventuality; they always happen. I would choose to live in the same neighbourhood as the advertising agency, so I could walk to work. Thus, I could also get rid of the car. I realized that needing little things to live is the true luxury and an authentic wealth.
The Elder looked at me with curiosity, as if asking me to talk more about the conclusions I had reached. I explained that I had lost nothing with the flood. Everything of value was still with me.
I added that both people and things leave so that we can also leave; it is never too late to lift the anchor. Life demands movement; to do so, it offers mechanisms for each person to build a dock and then their own boat. The essence of boats is in the sea. I would thank the storm for having taught me how to navigate its waters.
The Elder looked at me deeply and said: “The rain washed away almost everything you had. However, it has given you all that you can be.
I gave the monk a tight hug and promised him that I would return the following year. It was time to go; I would catch a ride with the grocery truck that would bring supplies to the monastery. He accompanied me to the gate. When we arrived, Lucas, an apprentice cook, who had gone to receive the supplies, informed me that the truck had just left. Faced with the impasse that had formed, I did not hesitate; I opened my suitcase and took two or three things. Then I put them in my backpack. I told him I would walk down the mountain; I could better enjoy the beauty of the place. Lucas promised to keep the suitcase for me. I told him that I didn’t need it; he could donate it to one of the nursing homes assisted by the Order. The young cook, like everyone else in the monastery, knew about the damage caused by the flood, so he insisted. He said that the clothes were almost new. Fortunately, I answered sincerely and with an overwhelming joy. Lucas did not give up. He reminded me that I had almost nothing left. I shook my head and explained to the boy: I have what I am and I carry with me the song of life. I will lack nothing!
I approached the Elder and said in a low tone of voice, like someone telling a secret: Let the next deaths come. I winked and concluded: They will be received with a feast!
The Elder smiled at me. I waved goodbye and started to go downstairs. I could hear some words of concern spoken by the young cook about the long walk that awaited me. The monk asked him to keep calm, my luggage was light. Before Lucas could contradict the argument, the Elder clarified: “I am not talking about the backpack, I am talking about the heart”.
My feet didn’t even seem to touch the ground.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.
All texts by the author at www.yoskhaz.com/en/